Bend It Like Bento

Chez Colette's 30-minute-lunch.

In France, a two-hour lunch is more the norm than the exception—not the image that Chez Colette at Hotel Sofitel in Bloomington wants to project to the time-starved inhabitants of surrounding office buildings. So Chez Colette looked to the East for inspiration, specifically Japan, where work-obsessed salarymen seek both quality and speed in their midday meals. It found and adapted the bento box: small portions of tasty items served in a handsome, compartmentalized lacquer box.


Good to Know: Chez Colette now serves a “30-Minute Lunch,” guaranteed to be served within 10 to 15 minutes of ordering. It’s a seasonally changing lineup of four courses—appetizer, soup or salad, entrée, and dessert—that diners select, with the exception of the dessert du jour chosen by the pastry chef, all served simultaneously.

Menu Picks: There are a few misses among the hits. Spicy crab cakes with mango chutney are only so-so. But the butter-lettuce salad is dressed with superb mustard vinaigrette, and excellent smoked salmon comes with requisite toast points, red onions, capers, and a delicious herbal cream cheese. Portions are ample and the lunches are a tremendous value—good reason to return to the Sofitel if it’s been a while.

Chez ColetteA simple, but pleasant arrangement of mache, sliced beets, bits of succulent duck confit, and an apple dressing is the salad course. The beef medallion can be a little tough, but there’s nothing to fault about the wonderful bordelaise reduction or unconventional but very good curry potato cake.

Sakura's The real thing: Most Japanese restaurants around the Twin Cities have bento boxes on the menu, but the “Shogun” at Sakura in downtown St. Paul is a standout, a surf-and-turf option whose crispy shrimp tempura and tender beef teriyaki are exemplary in their preparation.